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Monday, January 15, 2007

With love, from Ethiopia

It’s early Monday morning. At home, it’s Sunday night, and most people are settling down to sleep for the night. I’m sitting at my window, back at the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa. Just outside my window are the thatched roofs of the restaurant and meeting areas. On the other side of the largest roof is a massive tree with brilliant purple flowers exploding from its branches. A little closer to me, there’s a smaller tree with pale pink blossoms. A few birds float leisurely past my window.

After a long journey, I have a day of rest today. As I begin to process all that I have seen in the last week, I will take the time to soak in the sun’s rays, let the colours of the flowers refresh me, and try to breathe in enough of the warm air to sustain me through the remainder of the cold winter that faces me when I get back home.

I will write more about this past week’s journey over the coming weeks, but for now, let me tell you about some of the highlights:

Incredible scenery. Ethiopia is a beautiful country. Did you know that? Or were you like me and when someone mentions Ethiopia you think of “famine”, “drought”, “drylands”, and possibly fighting? I had no idea how much breathtaking beauty we would see. For most of the time on the road, we traveled through mountainous regions, on winding roads, up to the top of mountain peaks and then down to the bottom of the valleys. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful much of the scenery was. I will post pictures once I have access to a faster internet connection.

People. We met hundreds and hundreds of people, and most of them were so warm and friendly it was somewhat humbling. People invited us into their homes, cooked for us, gave up their beds for us, and worked hard to ensure that our journey was pleasurable. Many of the people we met were concerned that we should leave Ethiopia with a positive impression, and I believe that all of us did. It can be a little overwhelming when, every time you stop the vehicle, you are surrounded by hoards of people (especially children) who want to greet you, smile at you, practice their English on you, and (especially in the poorer regions) ask for pens or Birrs (the local currency), or “Highland” (which meant they wanted our empty water bottles), but there is a hospitality and openness here that makes our reserved North American ways seem somewhat cold.

History. I had no idea how connected this place was to history and how much it means to the people here. We visited the rock-hewn churches of Lalibella, and about all I can say is WOW! I’ll write more about that another day, because it had a fairly profound impact on me, but for now, if you have some time, Google it and you’ll see a few pictures that hardly do it justice but at least give you some idea what we saw. In the twelfth century, King Lalibella felt called by God to carve 11 churches out of solid rock. It took 23 years and thousands of labourers, but the effort is monumental and astonishing.

Simplicity. About 95 per cent of the people in Ethiopia live in houses that we would call “primitive”, with thatched or tin roofs and mud or stone walls. They are tiny and the ones we visited had fewer material goods inside the whole house than we have in our front entrance. Sometimes, that just feels heavy - that the level of poverty here is almost unbearable. But sometimes, it feels refreshing – that these people who smile at us with such broad and welcoming smiles, know more about joy than many of us do with our houses full of material possessions.

Commitment. We visited 2 projects funded by the Foodgrains Bank (I’ll write more about that on my work blog), and both are staffed by some of the most incredible, gifted, and strong individuals I have met. These are mostly young people (between twenty and thirty-five) who have given up the comforts of their homes to live in remote, isolated regions because they believe in their country and its people and they want to see positive change. Elizabeth was one of the most noteworthy – she is a gifted young woman who is only 23 years of age and is living in the very remote Afar region where she leads a team of about 70-80 people (mostly men) in a remarkable water diversion project that is changing the lives of many people.

This morning, we said good-bye to Steve and Nancy, and tonight I say good-bye to Larry. Tomorrow night I’ll be on a plane headed for home. There are so many things I still want to write, but I still want to enjoy the few hours I still have left here, so I will walk away from the computer and soak in what I still can.

By the way – did anyone get a postcard? I sent out 20 of them last weekend, so they should arrive some time this week.

9 comments:

Robyn said...

I'm so jealous! I was born in Ethiopia but we were evacuated when the revolution happened and I have no real memories of the country, even though I grew up with Ethiopian friends and am familiar with the culture and especially the food :) I would LOVE to go there one day, and I have appreciated the vicarious travel through your blog....I'm looking forward to hearing more!

Lucia said...

I can almost transport myself to Addis for a peaceful moment there with the flowers and the warmth.

I've said it before, but I'm really looking forward to your future posts on Ethiopia. I'm glad you got to Lalibela!

Pamela said...

I thought I could hear you speaking when I read that... and I've never even heard your voice.

eeeerie (:

Joyce said...

you timed your warm work trip perfectly. Minus 35 is pretty harsh.

Hope said...

I am so glad this trip has been wonderful for you.
But damn Heather, you are going to be bone chilling cold when you step off that plane.
Soak in and store those rays!

Vicki said...

selfishly I ask you to write more write more write more.

Reading it puts me in a comfy trance.

I remember the heaviness of poverity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Heather,

I was directed to this page via the Ethiopian Portal website:

http://www.EthioPortal.com

You reminded me of my country of birth and hope to re-discover Ethiopia in the near future. God bless you!

Cheers,

Gina said...

It sounds beautiful! What a priviledge to see such a lovely country and its equally lovely people.

No postcard yet, but glad you are having a wonderful time!

Anonymous said...

...Very true brief analysis and glad you mentioned the culture, people, POVERTY. As an Ethiopian Christian, I'm proud of the country's christian heritage and history. However, in your future writings, I hope and would like to see my Ethiopian Muslims and Jews mentioned. Look forward to read your articles.